Zardosi is a Persian word. ‘Zar’ means gold, and ‘dosi’ is work. It’s the name given to a particular type of embroidery which is believed to have been popular even in ancient India.
It was originally done with thin silver and gold wires, using special needles. Pearls, precious stones, sequins and beads were strung on the wires to make the work even grander.
Zardosi work was done by specially-trained craftsmen to decorate the clothes worn by kings, queens and other royalty. It was also done on the cloth and other gear used for elephants and horses belonging to rulers and rich people. Even royal tents sometimes had zardosi embroidery!
Emperor Akbar, who ruled in India during the 17th Century, supported zardosi craftsmen, and the art became very popular in the region during that time. But later rulers did not help the craftsmen as much. So, many of them found other work to do.
After India got Independence, the Government decided to help those who knew this ancient art to make it popular again. There are many places in India where a lot of zardosi work is done. Delhi, Agra, Bhopal, Hyderabad, Ajmer, Mumbai and Chennai are all zardosi centres. But Kashmir and Lucknow are the most famous for it. In fact, Lucknow has got a ‘Geographical Indicator’ registration for zardosi work. That means zardosi embroidery done in and around Lucknow can use a logo – a special mark – to show that it comes from the region known for the work, and it is genuine.
Gold and silver are no longer available in plenty. So zardosi craftsmen now use copper wires which are given a gold or silver polish, and silk threads. This actually makes it more affordable, so it’s not only royalty who can now wear clothes decorated with zardosi embroidery!